Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

She pointed at her chart, “Your adverb count is too high.”

My breath caught in my throat, “Is that bad?”

The doctor took off her glasses, and looked me in the eyes, “P.S., it’s going to kill your writing.”

I groaned, and my head became a half-ton heavier.

“It gets worse. Your adverb abuse is driving up your word count. It’s boring your readers. People are putting down your stories before they even finish them.”

I was dizzy. I had to sit down.

“It’s not too late, though. If we act quickly, we can operate on your writing, we can cut out the words that are clotting your flow. You can still save yourself.”

What is an adverb anyway?

She pulled a pamphlet out of the rack on the wall, “Do you know what an adverb is, P.S.?”

“Vaguely…”

“Adverbs are usually words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. You probably know them as words that end in ‘-ly’, but there are many types of adverbs. Words like ‘then’ and ‘quite’ and ‘very’ are also adverbs. Here’s a pamphlet on the different types of adverbs.

A Writing Epidemic

“Doctor, what is wrong with all of these adverbs?”

Her eyes widened, “You mean you don’t know? Didn’t they teach you anything in school?”

I shrugged, sheepishly, “I might have been asleep.”

Writers,” she spat. “OK, listen up. Adverb abuse is a widespread problem among writers, new and old. When you think you need to further describe an action, you often use an adverb. For example, ‘the dog runs’ turns into ‘the dog runs haphazardly’.

When you do this, you’re making a mistake.

You, and many writers like you are appending adverbs to other words because you are using the wrong word. Instead of ‘the dog runs haphazardly’ you could have said, ‘the dog careened’ or ‘the dog barreled’.Either of those shows what the dog is doing better than using an adverb.”

“Doctor, are all adverbs bad?”

She slapped her clipboard onto the table, “No! Are you even listening? Adverbs are necessary! Cutting out all adverbs would be like cutting fat out of your diet.

You need to ask yourself this: Do I need this adverb? Is there a better way to state this? Can I show this with a different word, or does the adverb make the most sense here?”

“Thank you Doctor! Will this help me get more readers?”

“I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker.”


Writing Challenge: You and a friend are sneaking around in the night, when you stumble across a group of authorities, doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Write this without using more than one “-ly” for every fifty words.

Try to avoid using ‘very’, ‘then’, and other adverbs that slow down your pacing.

K R Thoroughgood of Uncertain Tales responded to last week’s post ‘How to Write like a Girl’ with an engaging piece called ‘Girls Night In’. Give it a read!

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